After a thorough conversation and evaluation of every question that may come up during our Social Studies based semester, I chose to go in depth on the question: How do we know what we know about the past? We know what we know about the past through stories, artifacts, theories, and equations. Those who have experienced historical events (whether “signifcant” or not) are able to share stories and artifacts to trustworthy people, or historical labs/professors. We also grow an understanding of the past through new discoveries as well. Anthropologists, archeologists, historians etc. are constantly finding new discoveries about our past. Although events are set in stone, discoveries of these events are constantly changing. These new discoveries may be put into our school curriculums, or they may be marked as “insignificant”. The significance of what is learned in schools is usually based on a country’s bias of their past, leaving a lot of history unknown. Parts that show good in our country are usually are usually highlighted, and those that show our weaknesses are usually left out, leaving us with only a partial story. Although, with social media and new resources, most of us are getting to know whole stories through new discoveries and ideas. What we know about the past is what we are taught, whether it be whole or partial.
How do we know what we know about the past?
In schools today, kids are being taught social studies out of textbooks. But how do we know that the information in those books is true? And where did it come from?
The most obvious explanation is texts. When we study texts from the past, it can give us insights as to what the world was like back then. For example, if someone wrote in detail about a war that happened, we could assume that the information was correct and that it happened as told in the text. But what if it isn’t true? For example, if two war generals are battling, one obviously has to lose. But after the battle, both generals could write stories about their victory because the loser doesn’t want to be discredited. For this reason, we don’t solely look at texts.
Another thing we look at are stories that have been passed down. Everyone’s grandparents have some crazy story that came from their grandparents which came from their grandparents. How do we know if these stories are true, exaggerated or completely made up? We could look at the third point, evidence.
Physical evidence is an extremely important component. Without physical evidence, there is no proof and therefore no truth. For example, if it was described in a text that an emperor was killed by falling and breaking his neck, his body could be exhumed to verify this claim. If his neck and spine are intact, this could mean he died a different way, or this isn’t the right body. Or, for another example, if your grandparents say that their grandparents said that their grandparents were alive during the biggest war in history which happened in Iceland, but there is no evidence to support this, then you have valid reason to believe that this story might not be true.
I think that the most important significant historical question we should focus on this year is, How can history help us to live in the present. This is the most important question because it can help us define why we do the things we do. For example looking back at history we can see how people differ from today’s norms and why. This could affect us to live our lives differently. People commonly say that history often repeats itself. If we learn more about the past then we can stop the repetition and decide for ourselves the path we should take in life. These different stories we hear about the past can determine why we act, if we could act in kindness or coldness. Determining how history helps us live our live we can find how it affects how we live are life and from there we can improve it.
How can we make sense of the complex flows of history?
I think this question will be the one that will provide the most vibrant and challenging Social Studies experience for our class this year. It is the most important question to consider this term for our Social Studies class going forward. The vagueness of any answer that comes to mind for this question is greater than what comes to mind when asked How do we decide what is important to learn about the past? or How do we know what we know about the past? because it feels unexplored. Maybe those other two questions seem hard to answer as well, but the analysis that this question requires of us is not something we Grade 10 kids have actually thought about in the past. Most of our prior Social Studies curriculum has consisted of learning the events that happened in history and why they are important, the “make sense” part is left to the teachers. In Socials 9 we touched on subjects like “continuity and change” but to me it felt sidelined because regardless our curriculum was still very much learning of the events that happened and their significance. There is nothing wrong with just that, and when we brought in that “continuity and change” element, things were definitely more interesting. Something like our French revolution projects where everyone was a responsible for different character who took part in the French revolution in some way. Or something like Hamilton where everyone was responsible for a different song/chapter in the story of Alexander Hamilton, which we then pieced together. That made it feel like the making sense part was more of our own interpretation and it came more naturally. So coming back to the question, why is it important? Why should this be our focus for this term? Understanding the complex flows of history is no doubt an important part of Social Studies, or will be at some point, but it is something that we need to learn to do autonomously. We already had a great start last year with Hamilton and the French revolution and I think it would be a great idea to continue on that path of more intuitive and natural learning about this topic. If we are to ask this question in our work, then it will be something new and challenging for sure.
Concentrating our socials classes on the question, “Why do events happen, and what are their impacts?” will create deeper understanding of the cause and consequences our world has faced. By focusing on the domino effect, we will hopefully be able to eliminate any negative repetition, and find insight as to how to better the world of today.
When boiling down to the main purpose of studying history, one might say it is to learn from our past mistakes. By learning why certain events happen and how they affected our world, we can do just that. As an example, World War 2 officially began September 1st 1939. German soldiers invaded Poland under the instructions of Adolf Hitler. It is possible that there was no one single point in time when Hitler decided he hated Jewish people, but many events that led up to it. By studying the antisemitism in Vienna at the time when Hitler was growing up, we can provide ourselves with some insight as to what was the core cause of World War 2. It is no mystery to us that World War 2 left large aftermaths on the world, such as the rise of the Soviet Union and United States. However, merely studying World War 2 will not advance our society unless we take preventative actions. Many soldiers and regular innocent people died because of the hate countries had for each other. Being able to recognize why World War 2 started and the negative impacts hate has, will help our society recognize what actions need to be taken in order to prevent another World War.
By studying the cause and consequence of historical events, we can continue to improve societal issues, become better decision makers, and hopefully make the world a safer place for everyone.
If we want to understand the people of the past as well as we can, then we need to understand the flaws and ideas we should avoid. First of all, it is crucial to understand that the people of the past may not have been as exposed to the knowledge you now consider something everyone should know. For example, in the past it was acceptable to have slaves and ownership over other human beings. Nowadays, that sort of behaviour is deemed unacceptable by the community. However, that stance may change in the future which leads to another scenario exactly like this.
I believe that there is always some truth in stereotypes and other big ideas ingrained into society. As someone who wants to accurately understand the people of the past, we need to understand the concepts behind their ideas. We need to find out and understand what concepts makes them believe what they believed. For example, why did people in the past believe it was a good idea to buy your way out of hell? That may seem like a silly and unreasonable idea now, but in the past it made sense. They believed that the church had the power to let our sins be forgiven and that God would forgive them if they paid the church money. Their morals and ideals were vastly different from our contemporary thoughts.
Naturally, as someone who has grown up in the 21st century. We have our ideals and morals that have been ingrained into our mind since young. These morals may interfere with our ability to comprehend the people of the past. We may appear biased when criticizing people of the past since we tend to judge them by our moral standards. The people of the past also grew up with their own set of morals ingrained into their mind and we must understand that context. We cannot deem them bad people by believing what was supposedly ‘right’ in their time.
Obviously, even people of the past have conflicted views over things and argue with each other. If even they who are supposed to understand their own time, still struggle over their views, then we have an even worse understanding. It is crucial to thoroughly explore and understand contemporary records of those historical events for a clearer perspective. The more sources, the better, and that is true for anything related to historical events.
I think the most important question to focus on during our socials unit is “How can history help us to live in the present?” It targets the past and the present which I think is the most important compared to the other questions. The events and actions from history can give the future informed judgments on what actions to take. We can use history to live a better future. If issues from the past happen in the present or future, we can look back to solve these reoccurring problems. With the new knowledge of the present and the historical evidence of the past, our future can expand in success. For example, there were many diseases and sicknesses in history where people thought nothing could cure them. The Black Plague was extremely deadly and nobody knew where it came from or how to prevent it. Eventually, people found out it came from rats and fleas from overseas and found a way to protect themselves. Staying away from the infected trade route places lead to a breakthrough. Today, if a plague were to spread again, we would have the present knowledge and research of antibiotics and the past knowledge of what actions to take. Humanity needs history to help live in the present and future.
Most of the time events happen because someone wants change to happen, and to get change they have to take matters into their own hands. Martin Luther King Jr. was someone who wanted change or African American people, he wanted equal rights. He took matters into his own hands and brought people together to support it and wrote his “I have a dream” speech. He got the change that he was hoping for by working hard for it with lots of support. The impact one person can make can change the course of history. There are two different ways that a person can impact the world, positively or negatively. Barack Obama was someone who positively impacted the world by being the first African American president of the United States. He showed the world that since he can be the president, any other African American can do anything a Caucasian can. While on the other hand though, there are people like Adolf Hitler who had an extreme negative impact on the world when was in power. He was a racist man who wanted to rid the world of Jewish people. He put and killed millions of people in concentration camps. The impact that the influencer leaves all depends on what their motives are. If someone is motivated to help the minorities and give them a voice, they will have a positive impact. If someone is motivated to get rid of the minorities in order to make the world a “better” and “stronger” place then they aren’t helping anyone and will end up with a negative impact.
How can we better understand the people of the past?
In Social Studies we are taking a deeper look at people of the past and historical events. The best answer I can give to the question above is that there is no way to truly understand the people of the past because people’s conditions, values, beliefs, and influences were very different from the worldviews people of today have. It is not realistically possible for us to completely understand or relate to what they have been through, although there are ways for us to somewhat get a taste of their experiences or try our best to infer how they felt. These are some points that I find relevant.
Talk to someone who experienced that time. Even though talking to just one person is not a good way to understand the whole situation or what everyone experienced during the time, but it is a good way to hear the story from a first-person perspective. A lot of the time, “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes” is just a simple saying, but to truly put yourself in someone else’s shoes you would have to listen to someone’s first person knowledge of their emotions and what they thought, heard, and saw at the time.
Exploring many different points of view is very important to get the entire picture. Every person has different views and opinions on the same event. To be an unbiased learner, it is key to get the first-person perspective of the different sides of the occurrence or conflict.
Do not judge the choices and beliefs the people of the past had to follow. Our values, culture, motivations, leaders, religions, economic status and such are not the same as they were in the past. It would not be fair to accuse them of “not knowing better”, because clearly during that time people had their own logic and rules to follow. They wouldn’t have been able to predict the past and see what our world has come to today.
Gradually, roles and institutions were born, groups expanded, people who cooperated often began to value the mutual adjustment of behavior. After many years of adaptations and reconciliation, we have come to a point where we can look back and see how far we’ve come. We have become more open to equality and certain values in life. Although there are still a lot of problems in our current world we must address, I’d like to say that humans have come a long way and we must take into consideration that the people of the past have brought us here. Understanding their experiences can also help us truly gain the knowledge of historical patterns and the impacts they bring upon us.
Understanding how we learn history is rooted in what we learn; therefore, considering evidence as an agent of knowledge is the most crucial historical thinking area to consider in order to achieve a rewarding Socials experience for our class this year. During my Eminent Person Project this year, I often struggled with the fact that the wider public considers Testimony, a supposedly-authorized memoir of Dmitri Shostakovich, to be the most valuable source one can find about him (click here for a wonderful article about the scandal). Although most scholars discredit the book, an outspoken camp supporting the validity of the book still exists, and I often found myself torn between using the supposedly primary source or not. However, once I started to look at more credible primary sources such as government documents, letters, and programmes, I realized that Testimony was not an accurate source of evidence at all. Using tools such as the CRAAP test, and interviewing musicologists and music journalists helped me uncover a realistic and human view of Shostakovich. Also, determining what sources to consult made me a much historian, as I considered the backgrounds and motives of the creators of the sources, and whether there was bias. Using historical evidence directly shapes our opinions of events, because the primary sources we consult affect the inferences we create about the event. By finding credible pieces of evidence, we can paint a more accurate picture of a person/place/time period. In conclusion, as time separates us from historical events every passing moment, we tend to lose perspective on the event, and therefore need to consider and analyze pieces of evidence so that our interpretation of the event is accurate.